FAA Charters Panel To Discuss Changes To 14 CFR 21.191
News and Analysis by ANN Correspondent Mark Sletten
The FAA has decided to review the requirements of 14 CFR 21.191,
the rules regarding amateur-built aircraft. According to FAA Order
1110.143, dated 07/26/2006, current guidance on the subject of
amateur built aircraft has not kept pace with technology or the
market. The order directs the formation of a committee to assess
the current rules and, if necessary, recommend new ones.
You may remember last year's dustup between
Aircraft Investor Resources (AIR) and the FAA when their first Epic
LT customer was initially denied an experimental Airworthiness
Certificate. The Epic LT is a complex, 6-pax, turbine-powered
aircraft built of composite materials.
After requiring both AIR and their customer to provide
additional documentation regarding the build process, the FAA did
begrudgingly grant a certificate, but one has to wonder if that
experience started the slow wheels of bureaucracy turning toward a
recent look at the industry, at large…
The meat of 1110.143 charters the yet-to-be established
committee to define commercial assistance within the strictures of
the traditional 51% rule. Additionally, the committee will
"identify and define the regulatory, directive, and policy changes
needed for the FAA: to perform oversight of builder or commercial
assistance; to convey to applicants their responsibilities when
using builder or commercial assistance; and to convey to the
providers of builder or commercial assistance their
responsibilities to the applicant and the FAA."
The FAA will select the committee membership from "industry
associations and/or organizations" with AIR-200, FAA manufacturing
and engineering field representatives, AFS-800, AFS-300, EAA, and
Kit Manufacturers specifically mentioned. As for public
participation: Unless you are a committee member you must get
permission to attend any meeting. Public comments to the committee
must go through a committee member.
Why all the fuss? Frankly, some of today's kit aircraft are
capable of remarkable performance, which can be had at a fraction
of the cost for a comparable certified aircraft.
A fully-loaded Columbia 400SLX is slightly less than $600,000. A
Lancair ES-P fast-build kit (an outwardly similar airframe to
the certified Columbia) is $112,500; throw in another $200,000
for an engine and avionics, thousands of hours of sweat equity, and
you can have Columbia performance for slightly more than half-price
(not counting your labor) - pretty appealing for someone willing to
work for it.
In the pre-Rutan era -- when the current rules were established
-- carbon-fiber and glass-foam-glass construction techniques
allowing complex, aerodynamic shapes (and those oh so sexy curves)
were impossible. Mix modern construction with a turbine engine and
one can bake up a fire-breathing, pressurized, 400 knot dragon that
can easily carry 6 or more people -- at least that's the fantasy
for some builders!
The reality is only the most knowledgeable and experienced of
home builders possesses the requisite skills to complete this
fantasy project. Realizing this -- and that many builders are
frustrated with the length of the build process -- some kit
manufacturers and commercial enterprises have obligingly offered
The strategy is that
with assistance fantasies can be fulfilled; you'll get your kit
completed in less time and always have an expert at hand to help
All of this "helpfulness" begs the question: Can one complete a
project of this scope without assistance? That, apparently, is what
the Feds want to know.
While no specific accusations have been made, the fear seems to
be that some "wanna-be" airplane manufacturer might try to "game
the system." Specifically, a manufacturer without the means (or
desire) to go through the aircraft certification process might
circumvent it by marketing and selling an aircraft as a "kit" of
such complexity that you must build it at the factory.
Obviously, this would not be in the best interest of public
safety, and would unfairly disadvantage legitimate aircraft
manufacturers that follow the rules -- not to mention jeopardizing
a long-standing rule that allows one the freedom to build one's own